By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Shrewsbury – For the last 14 years Michael Welch has been an integral part of St. John’s High School, the all-boys Xaverian Brothers-sponsored Catholic School in Shrewsbury. Recently, Welch surprised the school community when he announced that he was stepping down from the position in June 2016.
“It’s time,” he said of that decision. “A good leader always knows when to leave.”
Recently, Welch reflected on what St. John’s has meant to him, not only as headmaster but also as proud alum, (class of 1978, where he was class president), and what the future holds for him as well as the school.
Welch’s father, John, was a graduate of St. John’s class of 1935, so his son knew he, too, would attend the school.
“He was just a good, good man,” Welch recalled. “He and my mother weren’t big preachers; they were doers. They showed their faith by serving.”
In a story that he often tells to his students, Welch and his father were shoveling snow one day after a storm when his father suffered a fatal heart attack. John Welch was only 55, his son, just 12.
“All of the men in my family died young, so as a result my family was very matriarchal. Attending St. John’s exposed me to strong role models,” he said. “The Xaverian Brothers who worked there were men who worked hard and showed good moral character through humility.
“They worked all day teaching, then at the end of the day changed out of their cassocks and picked up a hammer or other tool and worked on a project. After dinner and prayers then they spent time grading papers or doing more chores,” he added. “It’s was such a great example of commitment to work and service.”
After St. John’s, Welch graduated from Marquette University in 1982, where he studied psychology and theology. Throughout his career he served in a variety of roles in academia before returning to St. John’s as headmaster in 2001.
The school was still strong, he said, but was at a critical time, because of the lessening presence of Xaverian Brothers on staff and the beginning of the sex scandal crisis that was starting to rock the Catholic Church.
“We wanted to model all that was good about the church,” he said, “so we started to really develop our Campus Ministry Program.”
In this program, students participate in service programs throughout Worcester. The school also sends teams of students during school vacations to such places as Camden, N.J., West Virginia, Ecuador and Haiti. In addition, Welch himself oversees a trip every other year to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Throughout his tenure, Welch has been instrumental in drawing an impressive slate of guest speakers to the school’s Abdella Center for Ethics including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Dr. Paul Farmer, among others.
Welch is also proud of the school’s Scott Army Center for Entrepreneurship.
“After [the] 2008 [global economic downturn] we knew we wanted our students to be men that would be leaders. We want them to be the ones that can lead the country out of the country’s malaise. We want them to be able to think of concepts differently and to come up with strategies to be effective leaders. Have faith and work hard,” he said.
While many in the St. John’s community understand and respect his decision, they note it will be a significant change for the school.
“Throughout his tenure he has remained a passionate, optimistic advocate of our mission and remained faithful to the importance of a Catholic and Xaverian education as evidenced by the growth and success of our Campus Ministry program,” Carl Rapp, chair of the board of trustees, said.
As the school’s principal, Dr. Jacob Conca noted that he has seen Welch from “vantage point that few are privy to.”
“In the fullest sense, he has the best interests of Saint John’s High School at the forefront of each and every decision he makes,” Conca said.
Stephen Gregory, a math teacher at the school as well as a class of ’67 alum, noted, “[Welch] has combined duty and reverence, passion and perseverance, as he has sought to maintain St. John’s position as a beacon of excellence in Central Massachusetts and beyond.”
On the school’s Facebook page, students, alum and parents noted that their headmaster was “a wonderful man, who surely be missed.”
A search committee has been already been formed with candidates most likely be vetted after the holidays. As for Welch himself, he said he is not sure what he will do next.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I firmly believe the institution is not here to serve me; I am here to serve. And that is the question – where’s the next place where I can serve?”